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Plunge Pools, Night Markets, and Swimming with Horses in Zanzibar

The Tanzanian archipelago is a feast for the senses.

Plunge Pools, Night Markets, and Swimming with Horses in Zanzibar
Courtesy of Kilindi

Descending into Zanzibar by air, you’ll be in awe of the islands before even landing. The Tanzanian archipelago is a place of contrasts, its densely populated capital alive with labyrinthine streets and historic landmarks and its coast dotted with sleepy fishing villages along turquoise water. Upon arrival, you’re greeted by a fragrant aroma—fitting, given the nickname Spice Islands.

Zanzibar has been a cultural and trade hub for centuries with a rich and at times sad history. It’s also a nature enthusiast’s paradise with abundant wildlife on land and in the surrounding famously azure water. The island is a must-visit for those seeking an unforgettable trip that’s more than laying in a sunchair on the beach (although that’s absolutely an option, too).

A Complex History

Located just 22 miles off the coast of mainland Tanzania in the Indian Ocean, Zanzibar is easily accessible from the capital Dar Es Salaam via boat or airplane. Thanks to this location, it once served as a crossroads for trade between Africa, India, Europe, and the Arab region. For centuries, it was occupied by the Portuguese, Omani Arabs, and the British until it merged with Tanganyika to form Tanzania in 1964. Until the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, it was also a central hub for the Arab slave trade, with much of its economy centered around the horrific enterprise.

Stone Town, the historic center of the island, is a UNESCO World Heritage site that reflects Zanzibar’s many cultural influences. The winding, narrow streets feature a variety of architectural styles that convey its diverse heritage. Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim, so locals tend to dress modestly; for visitors, too, this is a sign of respect.

Sip Your “Medicine” by the Pool

At the island’s northern tip, Elewana Kilindi offers a truly unique stay for nature and sunset lovers. This property was originally built for ABBA’s Benny Andersson with an "open-to-nature" concept featuring 15 whitewashed domed pavilions surrounded by 35 acres of tropical gardens. Here, everything is outdoors; even the pavilion bathrooms are open-air. There are beautiful views of the ocean, and plenty of wildlife to keep you entertained. While reclining by your private plunge pool, you’ll probably lock eyes with an array of monkeys stopping by for an afternoon grooming session on your bedroom roof.

Though it’s easy to spend the day here, lounging around your spacious abode, back at the main pavilion, the T-shaped infinity pool beckons. It’s a beauty—an idyllic spot for relaxing, swimming, and having a cocktail. Try a Dawa, a popular drink in East Africa made of fresh lime, vodka, honey, and brown sugar over lots of ice. It’s considered “medicine” here (per the Swahili translation), served with a wink and a smile. The food at the property is also exceptional, with a variety of delicious soups and barbecued seafood platters overflowing with fresh catch from the surrounding waters.

Another fabulous property nearby—a favorite of Tanzanian model and philanthropist Flaviana Matata— is Zuri, famous for its private white-sand beach. “It’s so calm here, and the food is so tasty,” says Matata. “Plus, the service is absolutely amazing.” The property is modern and built like a village, with individual thatched-roof bungalows dotting the lush greenery. For Matata, who’s walked for designers like Vivienne Westwood and graced the pages of Vogue and Elle, Zanzibar is the ultimate beach escape to unwind amid natural beauty. She also wants to encourage the fashion and film world to shoot in Zanzibar with its unparalleled landscape.

Find Your Bliss—by Land or Sea

Horseback Riding/Swimming: Not far from Elewana Kilindi and Zuri, you’ll find Zanzibar Horse Club in Nungwi, a dream come true for equestrians. Depending on your ability, you can opt for a beginner or advanced ride and ride along the beach on one of the club’s beautiful horses. As an advanced rider, gallop as fast as you can handle along the vast stretch of sand; after breaking a sweat, your horse will enthusiastically walk into the water to cool you both off in a magical moment.

Snorkel on Mnemba Island: Zanzibar is surrounded by turquoise water, but the water is especially blue and clear near Mnemba Island, a famous snorkeling destination. Book a half-day trip to this marine reserve to enjoy the pristine ocean and flip your fins alongside bottlenose dolphins and an array of trumpet and clown fish.

Courtesy of Kilindi

Forodhani Gardens In Stone Town, you’ll find Forodhani Gardens, a lively open-air night market bustling with action and food. Get a taste of the local cuisine from one of the many street vendors here. “You have to try the urojo, a sour soup served with fried potatoes and onions, topped with as much chili as you like,” says Matata. Other must-eats include kingfish with ugali (similar to grits) and kachumbari, a spicy tomato and onion salad. Sip a fresh coconut alongside your meal for ultimate island refreshment.

Intoxicating Spice Souvenirs

Given the island’s nickname, you would be remiss to not bring home some spices. Matata recommends buying masala tea, a fragrant blend that her friends in New York City now beg her to make. With sweet-smelling ingredients—coconuts, cloves, cardamom—abundant on the island, there are also many high-quality soaps to shop. For a unique memento, Bao is a traditional strategy game comprising a wooden board and seed counters. It’s both intellectually and visually stimulating, and often exquisitely carved—as much decor as entertainment.

Flaviana Matata’s non-profit organization Flaviana Matata Foundation empowers and supports girls in Tanzania through scholarships and providing sanitary products. Here’s a link to support the foundation.

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